The world of traditional Chinese drama can be at once fascinating and bewildering to the uninitiated Western observer. Attuned to his own dramatic conventions, he is hard put to apprehend the delicate fusion of poetry, music, and subtle gesture which is the essence of Chinese theatre. Because of these difficulties, the task of translating traditional Chinese drama must go far beyond the conventional literary treatment and evoke the entire world of stagecraft and directing.
Longing for Worldly Pleasures (Ssu Fan) is a lyric monologue in which a young Buddhist laments the waning of her youth in the seclusion of the convent. The brief piece involves a complexity of mood which makes it an actor’s tour de force, undertaken only by the most highly skilled performers. Fifteen Strings of Cash (Shih Wu Kuan), a much longer play, is a comic murder mystery satirizing bureaucratic ineptitude in the administration of justice. The comic lead role of Lou the Rat is a virtuoso part which illustrates the intricate mimetic art of the traditional comic actor and was the play’s main appeal to Chinese audiences.